One hundred episodes… not bad for a bunch of selfish degenerates running a dive bar in Philly.
"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" started out as the rare Hollywood fairy tale that actually came true, with three out-of-work actor buddies writing their own TV show and somehow getting it on the air. Eight years later, "Sunny" now stands as the longest-running live-action comedy in cable history, and is set to hit the vaunted 100-episode milestone this Wednesday night (10 p.m. on FXX).
Despite his new status as sitcom elder statesman, "Sunny" star/executive producer Glenn Howerton (Dennis) assured us in a recent phone interview that they're still pushing the envelope: "This 100th episode is definitely one of our higher-concept episodes. It's a big swing... maybe our biggest swing ever, actually. It's strange; it's f--king weird. The structure of the episode is very odd. But that's part of the fun of our show: You never really know what you're gonna get, week to week."
The episode, entitled "The Gang Saves the Day," is an experimental, "Run Lola Run"-esque outing where each member of the Paddy's Pub gang envisions how they'd respond in a crisis. As Howerton teased it, "A convenience store gets robbed, and you go inside each person's head, one at a time, and the character fantasizes about how life would turn out if they were to intervene. So it's almost like five vignettes. They're all conceptual in their own way." That includes a fantasy for Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson) featuring a cameo from a certain golden-voiced dreamboat:
[Related: 9 'Sunny' Revelations From Kaitlin Olson]
"Sunny" has never been afraid to take shots at sacred cows… even within its own industry. Case in point: this season's "The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award," one of the funniest episodes in years, which parodied "Sunny's" lack of Emmy love (just one measly technical nomination across eight seasons) by having the gang grovel and completely revamp Paddy's in hopes of winning a local bar award.
Howerton said the "Sunny" writers were actually split on whether they should so forcefully bite the hand that feeds them: "We really debated it for a long time. We were like, 'If we don't get this right, it could really look like we're just bitter.' So we almost didn't do it. But the more we talked about it and conceptualized what the episode would be, we were all laughing. This is funny! We can't back away from this just because we're worried we might alienate the entertainment industry in some way. That's not how we operate. So we decided to just go full-force into it. And I'm glad it turned out well, because it could've been a disaster."
About the only thing that could make "Sunny" any cooler would be to have "Breaking Bad's" Aaron Paul stop by as a guest star. And it almost happened: The two-time Emmy winner has often listed "Sunny" as one of his favorite TV shows, and was actually slated to appear in an episode this season — but alas, it wasn't to be.
"We were bummed that our schedules didn't work out," Howerton revealed. "He was shooting a movie literally the entire time we were shooting our season, so we couldn't make it work. But we would love to have him. We're all big 'Breaking Bad' fans, and Aaron is one of the sweetest guys ever, and obviously a terrific actor, so we'd be lucky to have him."
If "Sunny" wants a piece of Aaron Paul, though, Howerton said they'll have to get in line: "I actually ran into him the other night, and it's so hard to talk to that guy because everybody wants to talk to him. We were in the middle of a conversation and got interrupted immediately." (Give Jesse Pinkman some room, people!) Here's Glenn and his wife Jill Latiano with Aaron at the "Breaking Bad" finale screening at the Hollywood Forever cemetery:
In non-"Sunny" news, Howerton has also landed a recurring guest spot on Fox's "The Mindy Project," which kicks off this week and should continue for six to eight episodes. "I play a lawyer who works in the same building as their clinic," he explained. "I get drawn into their office and they start using me as a lawyer for all the different things they're getting into. So I become associated with them, but also irritated by them." He added that he's happy to play a nicer guy than "Sunny's" Dennis: "Whereas Dennis is a complete sociopath, this guy is charming. He's a good guy. He has feelings, and cares about others!"
[Related: We Recap 'The Mindy Project' in Emojis]
Speaking of Dennis, in honor of "Sunny" reaching 100 episodes, we thought we'd take stock and ask Howerton to help us tally up his character's "bar tab" to this point:
Number of times Dennis has popped his shirt off:
"I think it's less than you may think. I'm gonna say 20. It really became less of a joke after Season 3. We found it so funny and we used it so much that I wanted to make sure it didn't become a crutch. I never want to lean on something like that too hard. You have to be very deliberate about how you dole those things out."
Do the shirtless Dennis scenes motivate Howerton to stay in shape, though? "Oh, hell yes. For sure, yeah. Probably the best thing for the show would be for me to let it go a little bit. [Co-stars] Rob [McElhenney] and Charlie [Day] have mentioned that to me; they're like, 'Don't work out so much. Just let it go. It'd be so much funnier to watch your character get more and more out of shape.' There's definitely something very funny about a character who still sees himself as this strapping young 20-year-old with chiseled pecs and abs, but in reality, he's 37, and it's all starting to fall apart."
Number of women Dennis has slept with:
"He would probably say upwards of 300 to 500. But my guess is that it's more like 150. I think he gets turned down a lot more than maybe he would ever let on."
In a classic Season 5 episode, Dennis unveiled his foolproof formula for seducing women, called the D.E.N.N.I.S. System. ("Step 6: Separate Entirely.") Does Howerton ever get approached by creeps thanking him for sharing that wisdom? "Not too many times in person, but on Twitter, tons. Tons. The evil truth about it is, it does work. It's funny because it's f--king true. If you were to follow that system, there's a way to really destroy someone with that."
Number of ill-conceived plans Dennis went along with:
"Oh God… I'm gonna go with about 90. He's not often the guy who actually comes up with the idea, but he'll try to alter it or have an opinion about it or get something out of it."
Number of times he's seen Danny DeVito naked:
"I haven't ever seen him completely naked, but I have seen more parts of him than I would ever want to see." Referring to "Sunny's" 2009 straight-to-DVD Christmas special, which saw DeVito's Frank emerge naked from a leather couch (don't ask): "I saw a lot of stuff that day. Stuff you can't take back. Yeah, I've seen a lot of bits and pieces of that guy."
"It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FXX.